We all know libraries are hurting because of budget cuts, but do you have any idea how bad the situation really is?
Here are some figures presented in a recent issue of Publishers Weekly:
The New York (City) Public Library faces $40 million in budget cuts, which would mean eliminating 650 full-time staff positions, drastically reducing the hours libraries are open, and trimming materials acquisitions by a third. This is a library system that currently has 40 million visitors a year (more than attend all local sports events combined). Estimates are that budget cuts will reduce that number by six million and that a million fewer children and young people will be served.
In Detroit, 20% of library workers have already been laid off and those remaining had their salaries cut 10%. The library system’s 2012 budget will be cut from $35.5 million to $23 million.
The Houston Public Library’s budget was $39.3 million in fiscal year 2010; for FY 2012, it will be $32 million. The Dallas library has lost more than half its materials budget in the past few years.
The same sad story is repeated across the nation in communities large and small. State libraries have also been hit with severe cuts in funding, and the Obama administration has proposed eliminating federal funding for the Department of Education’s Literacy Through School Libraries program, which provides funds for materials, staff, and services in school libraries.
Why does any of this matter? What will happen if our library systems implode?
Millions of children in low-income and rural areas will lose the only place that gives them access to books and the internet. Inner city children will lose the only quiet, safe place where they can go to study. People hoping to start small businesses and unemployed people looking for work will lose the research opportunities libraries provide. Everyone who loves to read will lose that magical doorway into other worlds and lives.
As the scope of the potential loss becomes clear, citizens in many communities are mobilizing to save their libraries and make politicians realize that access to a library is a necessity in today’s world, a basic right in a literate society, not a luxury that can be discarded when times are bad. In Oregon, the Hood River County Library, closed for the past year, is about to reopen after citizens approved the formation of a new tax district to pay for its operation. In Los Angeles, voters approved Measure L, which sets aside a greater amount of property tax revenue for the library system and will reverse the major funding cuts imposed last year.
If they can’t sway the budget-makers, some communities are raising funds on their own. In Seattle, Friends of the Library raised $1 million, including $500,000 from a single anonymous donor.
Writers are also rallying to the cause. Karin Slaughter’s Save the Libraries project, backed up by International Thriller Writers, is helping libraries with fundraising events and auctions of items donated by bestselling authors. Go to www.SaveTheLibraries.com for more information. Sisters in Crime’s We Love Libraries Lottery provides a $1,000 grant to a different library every month, with the stipulation that the money be used only for acquiring books. To find out how your local library can enter the drawing, go to www.sistersincrime.org.
We can’t sit back and wait for big organizations and other people to save our libraries. We can’t assume that the slash-and-burn approach to library budgets will blow over and everything will be okay in the end. What’s happening to libraries throughout this country is nothing short of catastrophic. We have to donate money and materials and support fundraising efforts, but we also have to remain aware and be willing to protest the next time a major cut is proposed.
Libraries are the heart and soul of a civilized society. We can’t afford to lose them.
What do libraries mean to you? What would you lose if you no longer had a library near you?